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1.5 percent

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Visiting the dentist is uncomfortable at its best, and painful at its worst. That’s why Dr. Maria Lopez Howell, D.D.S., urges her fellow dentists to be sensitive to their patients’ needs and fears. Howell has worked as a practicing dentist for more than 25 years and is a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association. According to her, this is the best way to gain a patient’s trust: “Always ask them what matters most to them, so you can make their appointments comfortable and less stressful,” she says. “At the end of the day, that’s what we want. We want our patients to be happy.”

You might find a dentist at an outpatient care center or hospital, but you’re most likely to visit one at a private office or clinical setting. Dentists work alongside dental assistants, who help with recordkeeping, sterilizing instruments and teeth cleaning. Like a dental hygienist, a dentist might also clean teeth and educate patients on proper dental care. Their other duties could also include extracting teeth, fitting dentures and filling cavities. Some choose to specialize in areas that range from treating serious oral problems and diseases to straightening teeth and performing oral surgery.

The need for professionals to examine our teeth, fill and – gulp – refill our cavities isn’t fading. Patients also have a particular interest in cosmetic treatments from dentists, such as teeth whitening, and this also drives demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth of nearly 16 percent between 2012 and 2022, with more than 23,000 new openings. A comfortable salary, low unemployment rate and agreeable work-life balance boost dentist to the No. 3 position on our list of Best Jobs of 2014.


Dentists are well compensated for the services they provide. According to the BLS, dentists earned a median salary of $145,240 in 2012. The best-paid earned more than $187,999, while the lowest-paid earned less than $74,130. Dentists who work in private offices are paid particularly well, but so are those who work alongside other health practitioners. Certain cities also compensate well – specifically, the metropolitan areas of Nashua, N.H., Tyler, Texas and Odessa, Texas.

Salary Range

Median $145,240
25th Percentile $104,230


Becoming a dentist involves a marathon of training and testing. Ideally, the pathway starts as early as high school, when you’d focus on courses in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy and mathematics. Undergraduate courses in mathematics, chemistry and biology are also prudent, particularly because most dentists take the Dental Acceptance Test by their junior year. “It’s incredibly helpful to do as well as you can in those requirements when applying to dental school because it’s heavily based in science,” Howell says. Getting into dental school is competitive, and scoring well on the acceptance test is only one of the hurdles. Students also need top grades while in undergrad and several letters of recommendation. The University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan and University of California-San Francisco are widely considered to have excellent dentistry programs.

Dental school is a rigorous mix of practical and technical training, and the time spent in a program is determined by specialty. The residency program is usually one to two years. To practice, dentists then need to obtain a license, although the specific licensure requirements vary by state. Visit the for information.

Reviews & Advice

Before you begin pounding the pavement, Howell suggests visiting a dental school when you’re still a prospective dental student to ask about the requirements for acceptance. She also recommends visiting the association’s website for its resources for students and job searchers. Spending some time working as a dental assistant could also be beneficial, since you’ll learn through doing about bedside manner.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility fair Average
Stress Level fair Average
Flexibility good Above Average
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Last updated by Jada A. Graves.

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